Protecting your family online (3)

In our last post we mentioned the first essential tool, internet filtering, members are asked to use to help ‘protect their family online’.   In this article we want to discuss two other tools:

Tool 2: Accountability Reporting Software

Relying on internet filters alone is not enough.  Internet use must also be monitored with accountability reporting software, which often is part of the filter you install (something we’ll come back to later).  Accountability software, when set up properly, keeps a list of all the sites you or another user have visited (or tried to visit) and when you did so, and emails this list to someone on a regular basis.  When these activity logs are reviewed one can tell what each user was trying to access and if the filter is working properly or needs to be reconfigured.  This type of software is much more reliable than your web browser history logs, as the latter can easily be cleared and may be difficult to access if the devices are mobile or inside another user account.

Accountability software should be set up so the reports it generates are sent to an accountability partner–your spouse or another trusted adult.  This is an excellent way for the computer administrator to remain honest especially if the accountability software is robust enough that it cannot be disabled without the partner’s password.  If this step seems somewhat over-the-top, bear in mind that internet misuse is fostered most by the ease and secrecy with which illicit material can be accessed.  Knowing someone may review our online activities is a strong deterrent from doing something inappropriate.   Mikko Hypponen, an internet pioneer and cybersecurity expert, recently remarked that many trust Google with secrets they withhold from their spouse.

NetNanny, iGateWeb, and OpenDNS all provide different levels of accountability reporting.  However, if the filter is disabled or circumvented the accountability report obviously is inaccurate, which is one reason an accountability reporting solution that avoids this should be used.  Some examples of such solutions include: Qustodio, Covenant Eyes (where the accountability reporting is separate from their filter), and eBlaster Software

It is important you research these (and other) options and choose one.  Many programs offer a trial period allowing you to experiment and see if the software works for you.  Once you have committed to a program, install it on every device in your home (all the devices you listed in the first article).  Like the filter, the accountability report must be configured for each user account to give you an idea of what each user is doing.

Tool 3: Parental Controls

Limiting digital technology use for your children using parental controls and different user accounts is important for more than their moral wellbeing.  Too much screen time has been linked to obesity, sleep and eating disorders, behavioral problems, impaired academic performance, aggression, and insufficient time for active/creative play.  The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages screen time for children under two and recommends limiting daily screen time to one to two hours for older children.  Parental controls are useful tools that allow parents to set specific time limits on the digital devices their children use.  Equally important, this software also allows parents to prevent their children from using specific programs and apps.  Parental controls can be set up using either features built into the operating system or other software programs.

There are too many different operating systems and parental control programs to allow a discussion of all the ways to set them up.  That does not mean setting up parental controls is difficult.  Usually the parental controls (called “Restrictions” on iPhones) can be found in the control panel or in the settings menu.  It is best if you google “Windows parental controls” or “Android restricted profiles” to access one of the many guides detailing how to install parental controls.  Since each user will require different restrictions, a separate user account (or profile) should be created for each user.  For children these accounts should be ‘limited’ or ‘restricted’ to prevent them for installing unwanted software and from having administrator privileges on the device.

Controls on smartphones.  Correctly configuring the parental controls on your child’s smartphone (or tablet, etc.) is very important.  Aside from phone calls and texting, these devices are used to watch movies and access social media (and many other things), so that they often become your child’s main portal to the digital world.  Without having the parental controls or restrictions properly configured, you, as parent, have little or no control over the actual use of the device.  You may have iGateWeb or OpenDNS installed on your home network, but if your child’s device has a data package, or access to an open WiFi connection (available at many locations), they have easy access to open internet.

Apps and default browsers.  When configuring parental controls on smartphones and tablets, it is important to restrict what apps users can access and install, as internet filters are usually unable to filter the content accessed with them.  Another thing to remember when configuring these devices is to block the default browser, because the web filtering usually only works on their provided browser.  Other things you will (or should) want to prevent your child from accessing are sites such as iTunes/App store/Google Play, and from making in-app purchases.  The latter is important to prevent your child from incurring large, unexpected costs on your account.  For iOS devices, the restrictions password should be different from the login password so that children cannot turn off the restrictions. Again, using accountability reporting together with parental controls allows you to see what apps are being accessed.

Some parental control features and app restrictions are also found in software programs such as NetNanny and Qustodio, allowing you to use these programs for several different purposes.  However, we strongly suggest you look into other parental control software options as well, as often one program provides features that are not included in another.  The parental controls built into the operating system are free and we recommend using those along with features provided with programs like NetNanny and Qustodio.

 Questions and comments

Why can’t you just recommend a simple solution – one tool that does everything?  Our common workplace and jobsite tools all have their own specific purpose for which they are best suited; we don’t have a single tool that does it all.  Digital ‘tools’ are similar: each has a purpose for which it is best suited, and although tool functionality often overlaps (e.g. a filter that also allows some parental controls), you are best off with a well-stocked (digital) toolbox.  There are situations where you need more than one tool.  For example, if you need to temporarily turn off your filter to access a site or run a program, your accountability software can be left on if these are separate programs.  The best suggestion we currently have for a single program that filters, does accountability reporting, and allows you to set up parental controls is Qustodio.  This is a good program, but it does not filter as well as NetNanny.